Former Saddlebrook GM Pat Ciaccio’s new ‘Passion Project’ will provide career opportunities for the developmentally disabled. (Photos and rendering by Charmaine George)

Pat Ciaccio says that before Saddlebrook Resort was sold last year to Mast Capital, it was providing a safe haven where intellectually and developmentally disabled adults could work and be accepted.

The former long-time Saddlebrook general manager says that all the years that he worked for the resort’s founder and owner Tom Dempsey, “were very good to me and my family and I knew that what I really wanted to do was give something back and do something to help people with special needs.”

Above is a rendering created by Neighborhood News multimedia specialist Charmaine George which superimposes over the current construction site what the various areas of the Community Café will resemble. 

Ciaccio says he was building on the good work Saddlebrook started when he came up with the idea for his new nonprofit passion project — which he calls the Community Café, located in the 3,200-sq.-ft. former Keeps Carpet Store building on S.R. 54, less than a half-mile west of Morris Bridge Rd. 

“The Community Café will create welcoming spaces and provide workforce training opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Ciaccio says. “I know there are other businesses that hire the developmentally disabled, including Publix, but we want to do even more to help them. We want to train them so they can not only have a job, but actually move up to management positions. Nearly our entire staff of 30-35 employees (when it opens) will be people with these special needs who normally find it difficult to find a job.”

Raised in New Jersey, Ciaccio says his family background spans more than five generations of leaders in the hospitality industry. He says the Community Café will be home to a gourmet coffee bar and also will sell ice cream and smoothies (see rendering, right). The Café also will feature a retail shop selling T-shirts, coffee mugs and other branded merchandise. He says he has visited several other businesses around the country with similar concepts, including Rise & Nye’s in Sarasota. 

Pat Ciaccio outlines his vision for the Community Café’s event center.

And finally, there is an 1,100-sq.-ft. private event space that will feature artwork (that will be for sale, with all sales proceeds going to the artists) rotating quarterly by intellectually and developmentally disabled professional artists affiliated with Art4All. He says there will be entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights featuring performers with special needs. He adds that the event space will be available for use by community organizations.

Best of all, each area of the Community Café will have its own “team leader” among the “Shining Stars,” which is what all of the employees will be called. Only Ciaccio himself and the Café’s top management will not have special needs.  

The Shining Stars will deliver a high-quality food and beverage experience with exceptional guest service in a tranquil, family-oriented, decompressing, “Team Greater Than Me” environment.

Ciaccio says that his goal is to provide cohesive and inclusive workforce training that will offer advancement opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We truly are looking to change the current narrative about special needs adults from awareness to education,” he says. “The narrative must be changed.” 

Ciaccio isn’t alone in his passion to help those with special needs. 

“I am in partnership with Katbrat Studios (which specializes in digital media and content creation), John Lombardo Coaching & Consulting and The Leyda Group (which specializes in leadership coaching and human resources consulting).

The Community Café also will be led and mentored by a five-person Board of Directors: Dr. Alexis Dempsey-Doyle, Jodi Gordon, Wasim Kayal, Seth Ravenna and Dr. Mohamad Saleh.

“We plan to connect the community through educational workshops and podcasts in the Café’s event center while providing an exceptional food and beverage experience,” Ciaccio says.

As though he’s not already busy enough, Ciaccio, Tom Dempsey and Erik and Seth Ravenna also are opening Johnny C’s Italian Eatery on Cross Creek Blvd. in New Tampa, in the former Precinct Pizza location. 

Get More Info On Apr. 18!

Although Ciaccio says he anticipates that the Community Café will open on or around June 15, he and his leadership team will host a News Conference that will be open to the entire local community, as well as the media. The event will be held on Tuesday April 18 (the day many of you will receive this issue in your mailbox), at 11 a.m., at the Hilton Garden Inn Tampa-Wesley Chapel (26640 Silver Maple Pkwy.). Ciaccio says he thanks Hilton Garden Inn GM Charlie Whiteacre for graciously agreeing to host this event.

“I also would like to thank all my partners and community members who already have reached out to lend support,” Ciaccio says. “It takes a village but together, I know that we can change the narrative!”

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